Monday, 21 March 2011

The re-distracted goldfish

I have been experimenting on my students.

I haven't gone the whole Frankenstein, although some of my more languid learners might perhaps benefit from neck-bolts and lightning.

Rather, I have attempted to see whether there is any validity in my proposition from a previous post, that 'in order to engage the new learning mind a lesson now needs multiple points of abbreviated contact'.

Not wanting to overdo it, I decided to double the points of contact in one lesson to see how effective it might be.

For logistical reasons, I chose a small CAE class of six students with which to trial my theory.

We had been looking at modals of deduction and other speculative phrases in the previous class as part of the preparation for part 2 of the speaking exam.

I selected 10 such phrases and typed up each one as a JPEG file using Microsoft Paint, saving them to a separate folder.

Then I changed the settings on the classroom PC's screensaver so that it showed the phrases continuously. 

(There may be an easier way to do this if anyone can let me know.)

The screen sits above and behind my head and is actually a 40-inch flat screen.

I left it on throughout the class so that any time the students looked forward it was in their sightline.

The students used the phrases liberally, and mostly accurately, during practice of the speaking exam which took place at the end of the lesson.

Fr the first practice I left the screensaver on.

For the second practice, I turned it off.

There was a small drop-off in accuracy during the second practice but nothing spectacular.

More pertinently, when I asked the students whether or not they found the ever-changing text a distraction, they said not.

Rather, they claimed to find it engaging in a way that phrases written in a list on the board are not.

Viewing media as engaging and yet not distracting is perhaps a definition of the kind of input most commonly encountered by learners.

Or, at least it is how media are treated by contemporary learners.

I will try to think of other ways to incorporate abbreviated, multiple  contacts in future weeks.


  1. Sounds like a cracking idea. Why don't you post it on ? It's the collaborative blog by Sandy Millin. This week's prompt is what would you do with a single laptop in class.


  2. Hi Candy,
    Glad you like it. Sandy's blog looks very interesting - I have put up one of my favourite laptop ideas.

  3. So if I understand you correctly, you had a sort of slide show of changing phrases going on in the background?

    Makes sense. If the text is short, it can be processed very fast and yes, much more engaging than a blackboard list.

    I hope publishers will introduce more dynamic presentations of material for classroom projection soon. I'm a bit surprised that static pdf versions of book pages are being produced for new media. What you were doing here makes a lot more sense to me.

  4. Hi Vicki,
    For some reason, a spam filter I didn't know I had, saw fit to consign your words of wisdom to the bin. I apologise for not getting round to your comment sooner, but I didn't know it was there.
    Anyway, yes, it was basically a slide show, which, simple though it is, is a bit more engaging than some of the media I have seen. I live a long way from anywhere, but a publisher thought it was a good idea to come out here and spread the word about their new media accompanying a new book. But it was exactly the same content as the book, as in a photograph of each page.
    I think we're all still catching up with what we can do with the technology, and, more importantly, what's best to do with it.